Europe should count itself lucky that a leftwing anti-austerity party won the Greek elections, swept into office by citizens who've had enough. Elsewhere in Europe, seven years of stupid, punitive, and self-defeating austerity policies have led to gains by the far right. If a radical left party is now in power in Athens and sending tremors through Europe's financial markets, the EU's smug leaders and their banker allies in Frankfurt, Brussels and Berlin have only themselves to blame. Alexis Tsipras, leader of the winning Syriza coalition, says he doesn't want Greece to leave the Euro. He just wants Europe's leaders to renegotiate Greece's debt. It's about time. This crisis could have ended years ago with far less suffering for ordinary people who had no responsibilities for the offending policies. Greece, after all, has about two percent of the EU's total economic product -- and it has about 25 percent less than it had before the crisis. Writing off Greece's debt outright would have cost peanuts, and still would.
The Greeks have deactivated the switch that threatened to blow Europe sky high. Antonis Samaras's New Democracy party victory in Greece does not in and of itself solve Athens' problems, nor those plaguing the rest of Europe's capitals. The boxer is still on the ropes, but the bell has been rung, ending the round; and that gives Europe time to recover, though it will have to keep fighting. In addition this week, if seen as part and parcel to what happened in Greece, the result of France's legislative elections and the majority that President Hollande now boasts both act as a serious warning to Angela Merkel in Germany. The message is clear: we are willing to go forward, but the pernicious austerity strategy that is pushing us into the abyss must be reconsidered.
There's a new scarlet letter in town. Actually, it's the same letter -- "A" -- but it stands for a different word that's increasingly regarded as shameful: Austerity. The darling idea of 2010 and 2011 has become the pariah concept of 2012. And the evidence of profound change is all around, from France and Greece to Germany and -- gasp -- the Republican Party. The change, when it comes to the conventional wisdom on austerity, has come from a combination of public pressure and leadership: one pushing up from below, the other pressing down from above. None of this means that we should break out the Keynesian champagne any time soon. But it's clear the forces of austerity are in retreat. And that's a very good thing.
By 2010, I decided to spend some time writing in Greece. I had open accounts to settle there -- family, friends, closets. What I hadn't planned though was that it's hard to settle with the already bankrupt. I landed in a suicidal country itself deeply in the closet financially, morally, even sexually.